English Translation: “Unbelievable! One dog gives birth to 11 subspecies in one day.”
In recent days, two surveys have been brought to my attention which make sweeping and major statements about hunting, conservation and game ranching in this country. In the one instance the statements were based mainly on interviews with one quarter of 1% of the game ranchers in this country and, in the other case, based on questionnaires completed by less than one fifth of one per cent of the estimated 300 000 local hunters in SA. In both cases, official press releases were made trumpeting the results of these microscopic samples and, in the former case, the survey was referred to on television, radio and by the print media.
To date, even though days have gone by, I have not seen any comment by any hunting or game ranching association, let alone ones which have remotely received equivalent coverage. If anything was needed to confirm the need for hunting associations to develop and implement well thought out, three year public relations strategies implemented by major, professional public relations firms, then their current lack of response to these surveys was it.
The first survey was announced in a press release by the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University and dealt with a survey by Professor Peet van der Merwe at the Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society. Amongst a number of highly questionable conclusions reached by him, the professor made the startling claim that, based on his survey, 19% of local hunters – which Free State University estimated at some 300,000 people – have hunted colour variants in 2015. If this were remotely applicable to the country as a whole, it would mean that about 57,000 colour variant animals were shot in 2015 in South Africa. Given the limited number of intensive breeders – estimated to be less than 500 – this would amount to over 1,100 animals per breeder.
What gives the lie to this is the recent Consolidated Draft Report of the National Dialogue Workshop on Selective and Intensive Breeding of Colour Variants dated 25 February 2016, in which the Wildlife Ranching Association of South Africa advised that, in 2012, the number of the top ten colour variants in the whole country amounted to 5 668 animals in total.
In addition, given the almost total absence of articles on hunts for these unnatural colour variants in hunting magazines and the paucity of applications for entry of such animals into hunting record books, this claim by the professor strains my credulity way beyond the breaking point. In a nutshell, it is unadulterated rubbish.
On 10 February, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), a minuscule NGO in South Africa, brought out its survey, which announced that there were only six million herbivores in the country and speculation was soon rife that the numbers quoted by Wildlife Ranching of South Africa (WRSA) and various other informed commentators was wrong as regards the recovery of game numbers in South Africa over the last 50 years or so and the claims made by them relating to the benefits of extensive game ranching and hunting in the country were grossly exaggerated.
It is only when you read the fine print in the report on the survey that it is possible to winkle out the truth and, even then, it is not all that clear what points EWT were trying to make.
A number of years ago I was asked by the then Chairman of EWT to conduct a business review of the body as they had recently terminated the services of their longstanding and iconic CEO, who was well-respected and liked in both the conservation and hunting communities. His replacement was being undermined in the highly politicised environment into which EWT had degenerated – led by a woman who was after his job – and the organisation was running short of funds. Since then the body has limped along becoming progressively ever more anti-hunting and adopting all the hallmarks of an animal rightist culture. EWT has no standing in the hunting community and, judging by the response from the game ranching community, not much there either.
In her book, Wilding the Farm or Farming the Wild, Professor Jane Carruthers quoted two estimates of game numbers in South Africa. In 1964, the estimate amounted to 557 000 game animals and, in 2005, this number had increased to 18,7 million. The documentary, The South African Conservation Success Story, showed conclusively that the growth in game numbers was almost entirely as a result of hunting and the private sector, aided and abetted by government legislation which, of course, is not what anti-hunters or animal rightists want to hear.
I have no doubt that EWT’s the real motive behind the survey was to disprove this but, unlike the 2005 estimate in Carruther’s book, EWT:
- Excluded all game and focussed only on herbivores;
- Excluded all game in the country’s national parks and provincial reserves, which cover some seven million hectares in total;
- Excluded game on properties which carried game but did not use it to generate revenue;
- Excluded small game like suni, duikers, grysbuck, warthog and bushpig; and
- Excluded all predators.
The survey was based on interviews with a quarter of one per cent of game ranchers which, in my opinion, is far too small to make the study more than a thumbsuck, at worst, or an uneducated guess, at best, and is no more relevant a basis for decision making than the information that was previously in the public domain. More importantly, the survey does not compare apples with apples. Why not? Is it because if they did so the actual number would be way in excess of the 18,7 million estimated in 2005, making the point ever more strongly that hunting has been the foundation upon which the remarkable conservation revolution in South Africa has been built, the only country in Africa, along with Namibia, where game numbers have increased over the last 50 years?
Turning to the number of people quoted as being employed by the game ranching industry in the survey, the number – again based on interviews with a quarter of one per cent of all game ranchers – is given as 65 170 people versus the 140 000 quoted by their association, namely WRSA. In the mining industry with which I am more familiar, it is known that each job in mining supports six jobs in subsidiary industries and each job earner supports, directly and indirectly, about ten others. There was no attempt in the EWT survey to work out what the equivalent numbers might be in the game ranching industry. Why not? Every other number in the EWT survey is effectively a thumbsuck so why not make an attempt here? Was it because the number would make the industry look too important and the role of hunting even more so? But let me for argument’s sake say that each job in game ranching supports half the number of that in mining, then game ranching and hunting has a positive impact on the lives of nearly 2,6 million people primarily in rural areas where this is most needed according to EWT’s numbers. If the number of jobs indicated by WRSA is taken into account, then the number of people positively impacted by game ranching and hunting is some 5,6 million people.
Personally, as a businessman, I think this survey has been a total waste of time and money and I would certainly not place any weight on it in making any decision affecting the game ranching, hunting and associated industries but then I am not the government which seems to have an almost infallible knack of making wrong decisions based on incorrect information. I expect them to do exactly the same with respect to game ranching and hunting, neither for conservation purposes nor to promote them but to extract the maximum amount of money via taxes of one kind or another to fund their bankrupt policies, which is why I exited the game ranching industry five years ago. If you think my criticism is harsh, then ask yourself why, if the Scientific Authority, in a report prepared at the government’s request, recommended way back in 2010 that, “selective breeding for rare colour morphs should be discouraged or dis-incentivised as an undesirable practice”, the government has still done precisely nothing to give effect to this recommendation other than host poorly organised talk shops on the topic?